The ungodly

Peter’s second letter was written from a very practical standpoint in that Peter zeroed in on what he most likely considered to be the three most important aspects of successful Christian living: spiritual growth, awareness of false teaching, and the Lord’s return. Peter’s discussion of false teaching in the second chapter of his book, focused in on a particular group of people he referred to as the ungodly. According to Peter, the ungodly have known the way of righteousness, but have turned back “from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). The Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Romans that knowing what sin is makes us accountable to its effect. Paul said, “I was once alive. That was when I did not know what the Law said I had to do. Then I found that I had broken the Law. I knew I was a sinner. Death was mine because of the Law. The Law was supposed to give me new life. Instead, it gave me death. Sin found a way to trap me by working through the Law. Then sin killed me by using the Law. The Law is holy. Each one of the Laws is holy and right and good” (Romans 7:9-12, NLV). Paul’s conclusion that the Law is holy meant that the effect of knowing the Law was an awareness of right and wrong. When Paul didn’t know what he was supposed to do, he wasn’t accountable for doing it, but after he did know, he was held accountable for his sin. James concluded in his letter, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).

One prominent feature of the book of Ezekiel is the declaration of individual responsibility (Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-20; 18:1-32; 33:1-20). In Ezekiel 18:1-32, the Lord was setting aside an old proverb in Israel (Ezekiel 18:2, cf. Jeremiah 31:29, 30) and replacing it with one of his own: ‘The soul who sins shall die’ (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). In the Old Testament, God’s people were treated as a national unit, and their sustenance and material prosperity were often affected by the sins of the minority (cf. Joshua 7:1, 4-11, 16-26). Consequently, God was just when he spoke of ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children’ (Exodus 20:5). Ezekiel 18:1-32, however, looks beyond material ramifications and considers the eternal results of sin. This is implied by the use of the term ‘soul’ (Ezekiel 18:4) and the command to ‘make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezekiel 8:31). Many righteous people were going to die in the siege, and many would be carried to Babylon (as Ezekiel and Daniel were). The eternal fate of each person, however, was determined by his or her individual relationship to God” (note on Ezekiel 18:1-32). Speaking through Ezekiel, God said:

“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:21-24)

Hebrews 6:4-6 expands on the topic of individual responsibility by including the result of redemption that was made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It states:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

“This much debated passage likely discusses unbelievers who have ‘fallen away’ (v. 6) by consciously rejecting the spiritual enlightenment they have received (v. 4). They had experienced a taste of God’s goodness (v. 5) and may even have been part of the assembly. They had given intellectual assent to the truth of Christianity, but their apostasy demonstrated that their professed faith was not genuine. In turning away from the sacrifice of Christ, perhaps to return to the Judaism they previously espoused, they rejected the only means of salvation that God has provided. Their deliberate apostasy was so severe that they could not be ‘restored’ (anakainizein [G344]) to repentance. Judas Iscariot is an example of one who, although outwardly associated with the things of the Lord, ultimately chose to turn away” (note on Hebrews 6:4-6). Hebrews 10:26-27 adds, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

Peter received instruction from the Lord about the importance of doing God’s will once it has been made known to us. Luke 12:35-48 states:

“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Jesus used the role of a servant to emphasize the absolute obedience that was required of those in his ministry.  The harsh treatment that the servant received from his master, he cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful, showed that he could not be restored to his former state of grace.

Peter argued that the ungodly were being kept under punishment until the day of judgment because they despised authority. He said, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. The Greek word that is translated authority, kuriotes (koo-ree-otˊ-ace) “denotes ‘lordship’ (kurios, ‘a lord’)” (G2963). In the King James Version of the Bible, kuriotes is translated government, suggesting that the ungodly are anti-government. It says in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Doing what is right in ones’ own eyes does not necessarily mean that a person is anti-government. The ungodly are irreverent toward God and therefore, see themselves as the supreme authority.

An example of irreverence toward God can be found in Judges 17:7-13, which states:

Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

Micah’s ordination of the Levite wasn’t prescribed by the Mosaic Law and his assumption that God would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest was unfounded.

The Hebrew word that is translated prosper in Judges 17:13, yatab (yaw-tabˊ) appears throughout the book of Deuteronomy in connection with keeping God’s commandments. After reciting the Ten Commandments, Moses said to the people of Israel, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well (yatab) with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.” Peter described the ungodly as “bold and willful” and said that “they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones” (2 Peter 2:10). Blaspheme is the use of speech to bring down another’s value, honor, due-respect or to injure another’s reputation in the eyes of others (G987). Micah’s claim that the LORD would prosper him because he had a Levite as a priest (Judges 17:13) was blaspheme not only because it devalued the office of priest, but also because it dishonored God’s intention of blessing his people through their obedience to the Ten Commandments. Micah lowered God’s standing to that of a pagan god who was worshipped because of his supposed ability to control the seasons, weather, and grain (note on Judges 2:13).

Micah’s irreverence toward God was most likely rooted in his practice of idolatry. It says in Judges 17:4-5 that Micah had a carved image and a metal image in his house. “And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods.” Later, when the images, the ephod, and the household gods, along with the priest that he had ordained were taken from his home, Micah said to the men who stole them, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left?” (Judges 18:24). Micah’s response implied that he had lost all of his spiritual capability as a result of the images and the priest being taken from him. Judges 18:30-31 tells us, “And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves and Jonathon the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.” The sons of Moses were not authorized to serve as priests. The priesthood was initially reserved for Aaron and all his descendants, but “God entered into a special covenant with Phinehas’ descendants (Numbers 25:13) following his zeal for God’s honor” (note on Numbers 25:6-13). God’s covenant with Phinehas was “an unconditional divine promise to maintain the family of Phinehas in an ‘everlasting priesthood’ (implicitly a pledge to Israel to provide her forever with a faithful priesthood)” (Major Covenants in the Old Testament, KJSB, p. 16). Along with that, the second commandment explicitly stated, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6). The mention of the carved image and the priests being set up until the captivity was probably meant to draw attention to the fact that the Danites’ idolatry was a contributing factor in Israel being expelled from the Promised Land.

Peter described the ungodly as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (2 Peter 2:12) and then, went on to say, “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of darkness has been reserved” (2 Peter 2:14-17). The debauchery of the Israelites was evident not long after they took possession of the Promised Land and is clearly portrayed in the account of the Levite whose concubine was sexually abused while they were traveling from Bethlehem in Judah to the hill country of Ephraim. The men of Ephraim were from the tribe of Benjamin. An old man who saw the traveler in the open square of the city was concerned about his safety and invited the Levite to spend the night in his home. Judges 19:21-30 tells us:

So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank. As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them. And they knew her and abused her all night until the morning. And as the dawn began to break, they let her go. And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer. Then he put her on the donkey, and the man rose up and went away to his home. And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

The Israelites’ decline in morality after they entered the Promised Land was considered to be equal to their spiritual growth during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness at this point in time. Peter’s summarization of ungodly people’s behavior captures the essence of the Israelites’ situation. Peter said, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Secret mission

Nehemiah’s position as Artaxerxes’ cup bearer gave him unique access to the king of Persia. About 13 years after Ezra was sent to repopulate the city of Jerusalem, Nehemiah discovered that the mission was unsuccessful and God’s people were unable to regain the glory they had once experienced in the great city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was devastated by the news and showed visible signs of his distress when he appeared before the king. Artaxerxes questioned Nehemiah, asking him, “Why is thy countenance sad seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:2). The king’s observation of Nehemiah’s sadness and sorrow of heart wasn’t meant to be an expression of care or concern, but rather an objection to Nehemiah’s distraction from his work. Nehemiah was responsible for the king’s welfare and needed to be completely focused on what he was doing. In the moment, when Nehemiah was confronted about his bad behavior, it says in Nehemiah 2:4 that he “prayed to the God of heaven.”

Nehemiah’s sorrow of heart was due to his realization that God’s people were still reaping the consequences of their rebellion against God. Even though they had physically returned to the Promised Land, the Jews still appeared to be spiritually separated from the LORD. As a result of his prayer to God, Nehemiah was prompted to ask Artaxerxes to send him to Jerusalem to rebuild the city’s walls. Nehemiah also asked for an armed escort to go with him, most likely because he wanted the people of the surrounding nations to believe that he was on a mission for the king. Initially, Nehemiah decided to keep the purpose of his mission a secret. It says in Nehemiah 2:12, “And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon.”

Nehemiah’s inspection of the city gates at night indicated his secrecy was probably due to suspicious activity within the Jewish population. It could have been that some of the Jews were cooperating with Israel’s enemies in exchange for special treatment or political favors. Nehemiah had received instructions from the LORD, and yet, he was reluctant to share the information with anyone else. Perhaps, Nehemiah’s greatest concern was that he would be unable to convince the Jews that God wanted to help them and would protect them if they once again put their trust him. The key issue Nehemiah had to deal with was the people’s unbelief. What God had put in Nehemiah’s heart would no doubt require their faith and the belief that Israel’s Messiah would eventually come to Jerusalem, just as God had promised. When Nehemiah finally revealed his secret mission, the Jews responded positively. It says in Nehemiah 2:18, “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”

Grace and mercy

The terms grace and mercy are used frequently in the Bible, but these words may be misunderstood with respect to how they relate to God’s plan of salvation. Noah was the first person that benefitted from God’s grace (Genesis 6:8). He and his family were saved from the flood that killed everything that was living on the earth. Grace is something we obtain, or are given by another person, and is equivalent to saying in English, I like you or I love you (2580). Grace is an attribute of God, meaning it is a part of his character, something he does naturally. “However, God extends His ‘graciousness’ in His own sovereign way and will, to whomever He chooses (Ex 33:19)” (2603). A proper translation of the Hebrew word that is translated gracious would be “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (2603).

Mercy or in Hebrew, chesed (kheh´ – sed) means loving-kindness. “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only the fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel)” (2617). One way that mercy has been described is, not getting what you deserve. Lot was the first person in the Bible associated with God’s mercy (Genesis 19:19). He and his daughters were rescued from Sodom before the city was destroyed by God and later conceived two sons through incest.

Ezra, the priest’s description of the situation in Jerusalem centered on God’s grace and mercy in returning his people to the Promised Land after they had blatantly rejected him and turned to idol worship. Ezra said, “And now for a little space grace hath been shewed from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a nail in his holy place, that our God may lighten our eyes, and give us a little reviving in our bondage” (Ezra 9:8). God caused circumstances to work out so that his people could return to Jerusalem. In particular, he prompted two kings of Persia, Cyrus and Artaxerxes, to issue decrees that made it possible for anyone that wanted to return to go back without any negative repercussions. The phrase Ezra used, “give us a little reviving in our bondage” meant that God had even provided sustenance for his people through the freewill offerings of king Artaxerxes and his counsellors (Ezra 7:15).

Ezra was appalled when he found out that some of the Jews that had returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon had married foreigners that were idol worshippers (Ezra 9:2). The Jews knew this was illegal, and that it had been the cause of their downfall, and the primary reason they had been taken into captivity in the first place. In his intercessory prayer for the Jews, Ezra declared, “And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass, seeing that thou our God hast punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and hast given us such deliverance as this; should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping?” (Ezra 9:13-14). Ezra pointed out that God had punished his people less than they deserved. In other words, God showed them mercy; his loving-kindness was still at work in spite of the Jews continual failure to live up to his standards.

 

An amazing turn around

The book of Ezra contains two parts of the amazing story about the Jews return to the Promised Land after 70 years of exile in Babylon. Their initial return started in 538 B.C. when Cyrus declared that the LORD God of heaven had given him all the kingdoms of the earth and charged him to build him a house in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:2). After 80 years of start and stop activity directed at rebuilding the once great city of Jerusalem, a second wave of Jewish settlers returned to the Promised Land. This time, God’s people were led by Ezra, a priest that was a direct descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. It says in Ezra 7:6, “This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.”

The king referred to in Ezra 7:6 was Artaxerxes king of Persia, the son of Ahasuerus, the Persian king that was married to Esther. At the beginning of his reign, Artaxerxes had ordered God’s people to stop rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:23). In the seventh year of his reign, Artaxerxes wrote a letter to Ezra stating:

I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellers, to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand; and to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellers have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 7:13-15)

According to Artaxerxes decree, any Jew that wanted to leave Persia and return to Israel was free to do so. Artaxerxes and his counsellers gave of their own wealth a freewill offering to God and supplied everything that was needed for the people’s journey back to Jerusalem. This amazing turn around might best be described as an act of divine intervention because no reason was given in Ezra’s book to explain why Artaxerxes was compelled to go to such great lengths to ensure the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem after having put a stop to their rebuilding effort only a few years earlier. Perhaps, God touched the heart of Artaxerxes or the king saw the benefit of having God on his side. Unlike his predecessor Cyrus, Artaxerxes didn’t claim the LORD had given him his kingdom (Ezra 1:2). Therefore, Artaxerxes motivation may have been to gain favor with God. If so, it appears he was successful because his 40+ year reign was the longest of all the kings of Persia.

Destiny

Almost from the start of his relationship with the people of Israel, God predicted that they would turn away from him and worship idols. It says in Deuteronomy 28:36-37 of Israel’s captivity, “The LORD shall bring thee, and thy king which thou shalt set over thee, unto a nation which neither thou nor thy fathers have known; and there shalt thou serve other gods, wood and stone. And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the LORD shall lead thee.” Later in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses predicted that the Israelites would return to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 30:5). He said:

And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I  command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; that then the LORD thy Good will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. (Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

Jeremiah prophesied a 70 year Babylonian captivity. He said specifically of Judah and Jerusalem, “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, saith the LORD, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations” (Jeremiah 25:11-12). Babylon’s punishment came at the hands of Cyrus king of Persia. His conquest of Babylon in 538 B.C. set the stage for the Israelites’ return to their homeland. It says in Ezra 1:1-2:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth: and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

The Hebrew word translated charged in Ezra 1:2, paqad (paw – kad´) means to visit (6485). This word was used in Genesis 21:1 where it says, “And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.” The LORD visited Sarah in order to intervene on her behalf, “so as to demonstrate the divine intervention in the normal course of events to bring about or fulfill a divine intent” (6485). God’s divine intervention in the normal course of events through king Cyrus’ proclamation meant that the Israelites would return to the Promised Land exactly when Jeremiah predicted they would.

It could be said that destiny is the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged. Although God has given us a free will, meaning we are completely able to control our own lives, he somehow manages to accomplish his purposes anyway. In response to Cyrus’ proclamation, it says in Ezra 1:5, “Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.” The statement, “all of them whose spirit God had raised,” suggests that God literally picked them up or caused these men to rise to their feet. There is no indication though that the men that left Babylon after 70 years of captivity were being forced to do so. They merely responded to Cyrus’ proclamation, and of their own free will, did exactly what God predicted they would hundreds of years earlier.

Cultural change

The Israelites’ exile into Babylon created a situation in which their lives were strongly influenced by the Babylonian culture. It is likely there was a deliberate attempt by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, to wipe out any remembrance of their former way of life. The book of Daniel opens with a recount of the events that led up to their captivity. He said, “In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

The Hebrew word translated vessels in Daniel 1:2, keliy (kel – ee´) refers to something prepared (3627). It is derived from the word kalah which means to cease, be finished or perish (3615). Although the instruments that were taken were not identified, it can be assumed that they were critical and were taken so that worship services would be interrupted, or perhaps even permanently terminated. According to Daniel’s record, certain young men from the king of Judah’s household were also brought into king Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in order to indoctrinate them into the Chaldean culture. Daniel said these young men were, “children in whom there was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4).

Four young men were singled out by the king’s servant and given new names, a sign of conversion or adoption of the Babylonian gods they were expected to worship. Daniel said, “Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). In spite of the extreme pressure they must have felt to conform to king Nebuchadnezzar’s demands; Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah refused to cooperate with their captor’s subtle attempts to brainwash them. It says of Daniel that “he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). The Hebrew term for defile has to do with reputation and is associated with the kinsman redeemer who was expected to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance. Thus the kinsman redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative” (1350).

 

Captivity

The nations of Israel and Judah were not the only ones God sent into captivity. Their exile was merely an example of God’s sovereign right to control the rise and fall of kingdoms on earth. The first mention of captivity in the Bible was in Numbers 21:29 where it says, “Woe to thee, Moab! Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh: he hath given his sons that escaped, and his daughters into captivity unto Sihon king of the Amorites.” As early as the book of Deuteronomy, even before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, it was declared that God intended to send his people into captivity. Regarding the rewards of repentance, it states, “That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee” (Deuteronomy 30:3).

The goal of captivity was repentance and an acknowledgment of God’s ultimate authority over mankind. The primary reason God sent his and other people into captivity was they would not obey him. A stubborn refusal to submit to God’s sovereign will caused the people of Egypt to be singled out and punished numerous times. Ezekiel identified pride as the root cause of the Egyptians’ problem and was told, “Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of the rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself” (Ezekiel 29:3). In order to extend Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom beyond the borders of Palestine and to show that God could take any kingdom he wished to for his own, Egypt was given into the hands of the king of Babylon. Ezekiel was told:

Son of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon caused his army to serve a great service against Tyrus: every head was made bald, and every shoulder was peeled: yet had he no wages, nor his army, for Tyrus, for the service that he had served against it: therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will give the land of Egypt unto Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon: and he shall take her multitude, and take her spoil, and take her prey; and it shall be the wages for his army. (Ezekiel 29:18-19).

God’s ability to speak things into existence and to destroy his enemies through a prophetic word was demonstrated in his overthrow of Egypt. Ezekiel recorded this command, “And I will make the rivers dry, and sell the land into the hand of the wicked: and I will make the land waste, and all that is therein, by the hand of strangers: I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 30:12). Even though the Egyptians did not present a military threat to the Israelites, God decided to remove them from their land and send them into captivity so that they would no longer draw God’s people away from him. The kings of Israel and Judah had a history of calling on the Egyptians for help and would not relinquish their dependence on a nation that worshipped idols. Ezekiel was told regarding Eygpt, “It shall be the basest of the kingdoms; neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations: for I will diminish them, that they shall no more rule over the nations. And it shall be no more the confidence of the house of Israel, which bringeth their iniquity to remembrance, when they shall look after them: but they shall know that I am the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 29:15-16).

The forgotten king

King Jehoiachin’s brief reign of only three months over the nation of Judah may be why he is often overlooked or forgotten, although he was obedient to the LORD. There is conflicting information about his age when he took over for his father Jehoiakim. It says in 2 Kings 24:8 that Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he began to reign and in 2 Chronicles 36:9 it says he was eight. Whether he was eight or eighteen, Jehoiachin was exceptionally young to become king.

In the third month of his reign, Jehoiachin was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and carried away to Babylon (2 Kings 24:15). He was the last descendant of king David to actually sit on the throne and rule over God’s people. King Zedekiah, who was appointed by Nebuchadnezzar to replace Jehoiachin, was the son of Josiah, Jehoiachin’s grandfather. After he was transported to Babylon, Jehoiachin was referred to as Jeconiah or just Coniah, the son of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:24). The Greek form of his name, Jechonias is listed in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1:11-12.

Jehoiachin was considered to be despised by the LORD because none of his descendants ever reigned, “sitting upon the throne of David” (Jeremiah 23:30), but Jehoiachin’s grandson, Zerubbabel became governor of Judah after the exiles returned to the Promised Land (Haggai 1:1). A pivotal point in the life of Jehoiachin is recorded in Jeremiah 52:31-34. It says that he was released from prison in the thirty-seventh year of his captivity and was given daily rations from the king of Babylon.

Evidence of Jerhoichin’s survival has been found in Babylon. According to archeological records, “Jehoiachin and his family were kept in Babylon, where clay ration receipts bearing his name have been found” (Exile of the Southern Kingdom). The fact that Jehoiachin was not killed like many of the other important officials from Judah (Jeremiah 52:27) and was later shown great respect by the Babylonian king (Jeremiah 52:32) shows that God was intentionally working to save his life, and the lives of his sons and grandsons, in order to preserve the royal blood line.

The remnant

Throughout the Old Testament of the Bible, the concept of a remnant was used to signify God’s intent to preserve mankind in spite of his sin nature or tendency to abandon God and seek after the pleasures of this world. The first example of a remnant was Noah and his family whom God saved from the flood that destroyed all life on earth. When God determined to destroy the nation of Judah, he said, “Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries” (Ezekiel 6:8).

Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. For three years, king Jehoiakim had been paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar, but “then he turned and rebelled against him” (2 Kings 24:1). As a result of Jehoiakim’s actions, God began to destroy the nation of Judah (2 Kings 24:2). Nebuchadnezzar’s attack on Judah in 597 B.C. resulted in the majority of people recognized as the remnant that God intended to preserve being taken into captivity in Babylon. Among the captives was king Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim who “went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers” (2 Kings 24:12).

The number of captives taken to Babylon was reported to be 10,000 in 2 Kings 24:14, but Jeremiah’s report suggested there were only about 3,000 survivors from the initial group taken into captivity (Jeremiah 52:28). The total number of persons in the remnant of the nation of Judah was reported to be 4,600 (Jeremiah 52:30). Regardless of the actual number, it could be said that the remnant of Judah was so small that it could easily have been absorbed into the Babylonian culture and disappeared as a separate people group. It was only because God intentionally chose to preserve them that the remnant of Judah remained independent and were faithful to their identity as God’s chosen people.

Not too hard

While the city of Jerusalem was under siege from king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah was kept in prison so he couldn’t speak to the people and discourage them from fighting (Jeremiah 38:4). About halfway through a two-year battle that was eventually lost, Jeremiah received a message from the LORD. “And Jeremiah said, The word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Behold, Hanameel the son of Shallum thine uncle shall come unto thee, saying, Buy thee my field that is in Anathoth: for the right of redemption is thine to buy it…And I bought the field of Hanameel my uncle’s son, that was in Anathoth, and weighed him the money, even seventeen shekels of silver” (Jeremiah 32:6-7,9).

Jeremiah’s act of obedience to the Mosaic Law served two purposes. First, it was a sign of Jeremiah’s faith that he believed God would return his people to the Promised Land after their captivity was completed. Second, Jeremiah’s redemption of his cousin’s property demonstrated that normal economic activity was expected to resume after the exile. Judah’s captivity would not change the course of events. It was meant to reset, not alter the execution of God’s covenant with his people.

One of the main problems that existed at the time of Judah’s captivity was a lack of faith. No one really believed God could or would save his people. As a means of establishing his ability to do the impossible, God intended to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and then, to bring it back to life again. Jeremiah declared, “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee” (Jeremiah 32:17). What was not too hard for God was to make his people want to obey his commandments. In other words, for God’s people to have faith in him.

One of the reasons the Israelites did not obey God was he had never punished them. In a sense, you could say, they had gotten away with their sins, and therefore, continued to do what they knew was not right. Also, there was probably a sense that God couldn’t or wouldn’t punish them, so there was no need for them to repent. In some ways, you could say God’s people were leading double lives. They offered sacrifices to God and continued to sin as if the two had nothing to do with each other; there was no connection in their minds.

God’s answer to the problem of disobedience or lack of faith was to give his people a desire to know  him, to have a personal relationship with him. God told his people they were to obey his voice (Exodus 19:5), but they had stopped listening. They were distracted by their sin and interest in accumulating wealth. God said to Jeremiah, “And I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39). In essence, what God was saying was he would give his people only one option, they would obey him or they would not live in the Promised Land.